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Stories of courage and conviction for the next generation

A call to faithfulness in the face of cultural pressure

courage

Stand Up, Stand Strong

Sara Barratt

If we live according to the gospel, we're going to make waves. Why? Because the way of Christ is countercultural. It doesn't go with the flow, compromise on truth, or stay silent in the face of injustice--so neither can we. No matter how young or old we are, or how much or how little influence we think we have, God calls us to boldly engage our upside-down culture through the lens of his truth.

“If you continue to be a Christian, I will kill you now.”1“Laotian Front Line Worker Prays He Will Die Serving the Lord,” Voice of the Martyrs, https://www.persecution.com/stories/laotian-front-line-worker-prays-he-will-die-serving-the-lord/

Nineteen-year-old Mee stared at the barrel of the gun pointed at her forehead by a Communist guard in her Laotian village. It had been three months since she’d encountered Christ in a dream and decided to follow Jesus. 

After a five-year battle with thyroid cancer, she’d been given three months to live. Desperate, she went to church with her sister who was a Christian and prayed a prayer as audacious as it was dangerous, “If you are really true, God, you heal me and I will serve you until I die.” 

That night in a dream, she saw two paths stretch out before her. One was darkened with shadows. The other was flooded with light, a man at the end saying, “Come with Me.” She chose the path of light. When she woke up, she told her sister that she wanted to believe in Jesus. A month later, a checkup revealed that her cancer was completely gone. God had answered her prayer and saved her life. Now, she was committed to serving him with every breath she had. But while she’d known persecution was possible, she hadn’t anticipated that three months later, instead of dying from cancer, she’d be faced with a choice—a choice between life and Christ.

“You can kill my body but not my spirit,” Mee replied to the guard. She’d made her choice. She wouldn’t back out now.

8,000 miles away

Several years later, 8,000 miles and an ocean and culture away, 24-year-old Jaelene Hinkle was also faced with a choice.“2This Pro Soccer Player Gave up the US Women’s Team Just so She Could Stand for Her Faith,” CBN News, https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2018/june/this-pro-soccer-player-gave-up-the-us-womens-team-just-so-she-could-stand-for-her-faith A defender on the North Carolina Courage soccer team, her career was skyrocketing. In June 2017, she was invited to play for America in two international games. It was a dream come true and an incredible opportunity. Yet days before the event, it was announced that players on the American team were required to wear rainbow jerseys designed to honor the LGBTQ+ community for Pride Month. Jaelene’s biblical convictions on marriage and gender now clashed with her career, and she had to make a decision. Would she compromise her beliefs and wear the jersey or pull herself off the team and compromise her career?

A few years earlier, Jaelene had whispered a prayer similar to Mee. During the spring season of her junior year in college, she began having excruciating pain in her left leg from an extensive blood clot. In order to save her life, a stent would have to be put in—but that would mean she’d never be able to play soccer again. The night before the surgery, she desperately told God, “If you allow me to play soccer, this is going to be for you.”

The next day, her doctors discovered the blood clot was miraculously gone. Now, several years after God had answered her prayer and allowed her to play, Jaelene had a choice to make—would she place her commitment to God above her soccer career as she’d promised? 

After three days of seeking the Lord, Jaelene pulled herself off the team. She’d made her choice. She wouldn’t back out now.

She was slammed on social media and booed during games. She was called names by sports writers. When she tried out for the Women’s World Cup, she was cut from the team. Yet she remained faithful.

A call to courageous obedience

After Mee boldly proclaimed, “You can kill my body but not my spirit,” the Communist guard lowered his gun and walked away. Once again, God had brought her life back from the brink of death. She still lives in constant danger of persecution, but as her husband Vang says, “When you try to avoid what God says, you try to build your own kingdom. Either you listen to God’s Word, or you listen to the world. We must follow God and obey what God says we must do.”

Jaelene and Mee’s cultures and circumstances are worlds apart. The consequences for their actions are also vastly different. Yet even though their backgrounds and the dangers of their choices vary widely, their commonalities are a stronger tie than their dissimilarities—both young women based their actions off of a desire to be obedient to God, regardless of consequences. 

It’s tempting for us who live in the comfort and relative safety of 21st-century America to read a story like Mee’s and think it’s irrelevant to our lives. After all, we don’t usually have guns pointed at our heads because of our faith in Christ. Our decision to follow Jesus affects our lives but usually doesn’t endanger them. 

Yet in the midst of this mindset is the subtle idea that standing for truth doesn’t matter as much in the circumstances we face today. Like Jaelene, we are often daily presented with choices. Will we stand by God’s Word when it’s unpopular? Will we hold fast to what we believe when our convictions are challenged by a coworker, family member, or neighbor? Will we allow our biblical views of marriage, sexuality, identity, justice, or gender to be altered by the pressures of society?

Or will we look at these relatively small decisions and let compromise and subtle complicity into our lives with the words, “It’s not that big of a deal”?

Consequences vary, but the call to obedience remains. It would have been extremely easy for Jaelene to brush aside her conscience and wear the jersey. In instances where it’s not our lives, but rather our reputations, position, jobs, or friendships that are on the line, sometimes the lesser consequence requires the greater act of obedience. Those seemingly “small acts of obedience” prepare and strengthen us for bigger choices in the future. As I say in my book Stand Up, Stand Strong, “Perhaps one day we’ll face the same consequences our brothers and sisters in Christ have faced for centuries. Will we be ready? One thing is clear: we won’t be ready to face death or imprisonment for our faith one day if we’re not willing to be mocked, fired from our jobs, or called intolerant for the sake of God’s truth today. Standing strong starts now.”

The measure of our obedience isn’t found in the greatness of the act, but in how we stick to the Word of God for the sake of Christ. Every person has a different set of circumstances, but every person has the same choice to make: to be faithful to God—regardless of the consequences.

Jaelene viewed her decision to pull herself off the team as an opportunity to encourage believers to not waver on their convictions, but stand strong. “Maybe this was why [I was] meant to play soccer,” she said. “Just to show other believers to be obedient.”

Both Jaelene and Mee chose obedience. May God give you and I the grace to do the same.

courage


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